Everywhere you go on Fiji people greet you with the call of Bula, meaning Welcome or Hello !! The Fijians are a friendly bunch and they do go out of their way to make you welcome. After landing in Nadi Airport on the West Coast, I was picked up and taken to The Bluewater backpacker hostel in Newtown just outside Nadi. The road to the hostel revealed a mishmash of building styles, transport and people which made it clear that I had finally left the "first" world and that I had well and truly started my world tour. Whilst the native Fijians are from a village based society, about 30% of the locals are Indian so the island has a real mix of cultures as there are churches, mosques and temples dotted around the towns. Life is also really cheap here with meals costing between 3 and 8 Euro and a local bus trip costing about 2 euro for a 2 hour trip.
Having landed in Nadi, I decided to spend my first day visiting the local Hindu temple and getting myself organised for the rest of my trip. Nadi is a town of about 40k people and although it is the tourist hub of Fiji, it is actually quite run down, since most tourists only stay there before they head out to the islands. I decided to use the next day to get used to the local transport and headed to the (Orchid) Garden of the Sleeping Giant and some Mud Pools about 20km outside of town. This involved using a mix of taxis, local buses, some hiking and a hitched lift but the end result was that I managed to complete the trip for just F$ 5 = E2- compared to the F$ 70 that an organised tour would have cost me. It was also a lot more adventurous, a nice feeling after months driving round Australia !
On Thursday, I decided to travel down the Coral Coast on the Mainland. First stop was the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, Fiji's first national park where I hiked for two hours through the dunes and back up the coast in 30C temperatures. A nice walk but very hot. After a quick E1.50 lunch in Sigatoka, I took the bus towards Suva where I was planning to stay at the Beachhouse, a "resort" on the Coast. On the bus, I got chatting to Martina, a German policewoman from Hamburg who turned out to be heading to the same destination.
The BeachHouse turned out to be an excellent choice. Although the dorm accomodation was expensive for Fijian standards (E16), it was a very comfortable and modern lodge and included Breakfast and Afternoon Tea in the restaurant / bar area close to the pool. This turned out to be a very relaxed way to get to know the other guests and for the staff to get everyone playing beach volleyball or joining some of the low cost activities (Snorkeling, Canoeing, Hiking, Horse Riding, massages) available at the hotel. The next day Martina and I went to find the local waterfall in the nearby rainforest but had to give up when the path ran dead. The hike proved quite funny however because while trying to get down to a small river pool, we accidentally damaged the water pipe supplying the local village !! Fortunately, after a soaking, I managed to repair it and apparently nobody noticed. After a strenuous morning, I therefore decided to spend my afternoon just lounging in the hammocks, taking a dip in the pool, enjoying the beautiful sunset and chilling with some of the other guests. The following day, we joined the offical hike to the waterfall with the hotel guide and this time we were successful. It turned out that we should have crossed the river about 100m below where we stopped the previous day.
Later that afternoon, Martina and I decided to continue to travel together as we both basically had the the same route in mind. First stop, was Pacific Harbour where Martina was considering to do a Shark Dive to see 4-5m long Tiger & Bull Sharks. It turned out she would have had to wait a week or so so we ended up drowning her sorrows at a local open air concert that night. The locals were just getting into it and starting to dance when unfortunately, a thunderstorm broke and basically put a damper on things. Sunday was also grey and rainy so we decided to head on to the capital Suva where everything was closed.
First up, however was Ziplining in the local rainforest. Ziplining involves hurtling down 50 to 200m long steelcables on a harness using just a pair of gloves as a break. It is good fun as you go over some big drops and keep thinking you are about to hit the trees. In total, we went down 16 lines and although my techique wasn't great at the start (I often arrived backwards !), I eventually got the hang of it and enjoyed myself. The guides were good fun often doing the lines upside down and breaking with their shoes ! They also took our cameras and made some great videos and photos of each of the participants which added to the enjoyment.
Mid-afternoon we arrived in Suva but being Sunday it was almost completely closed down so after taking walks around town and after an excellent meal in a local Indian restaurant, we eventally decided to have an early night and leave the next day. Before we left Suva however, we took the opportunity to check out the local Fiji Museum recommended in the guidebook. This turned out to be quite a surreal experience as 5 minutes after arriving in the museum, there was a powercut and everything went dark. We then spent the next 55 minutes taking turns to use my headtorch to look at the displays. I thought it added to the experience but unfortunately Martina was less than impressed. From there it was on to the local market near the Bus Station before headin north for our second week in Fiji.